Rios was born and raised in the Williamsburg public housing complex, the same place where his mother and grandmother grew up. At a somber vigil Monday night, Gertrude Merced, his mother, described her son as an “all-around loving person.”
“He really cared about people, especially the elderly,” Merced said. “His motto was that no matter how old they get, they should never be forgotten. They have their experiences in life and they should be taken care of, always.”
Rios was in Orlando to celebrate a friend’s birthday that weekend. He would never end up returning to his Brooklyn home.
Rios is survived by his mother, two sisters, three brothers, grandmother and nephew.
Merced spoke about her son’s passion for caring for others. After attending St. Francis College, Rios worked as a home health aide and moved up to become a care coordinator.
“He wanted to handpick the aides for every elderly person because he cared so much for them,” Merced said. “There was nothing he couldn’t reach if he wanted to reach for it.”
The vigil was organized by Assemblywoman Maritza Davila. When she heard that Rios was born in Borinquen Plaza, she wanted to find a way to honor his life and pay respects to his family.
“We needed to show this family that we are gathered together, that we do care,” Davila said. “He’s part of us, he’s one of us. It could’ve happened to any one of us, any family member.”
Davila called Rios a “productive community resident” who was respected and loved by many in the neighborhood. She said his death has made people more aware of the dangers of hatred and that no one is exempt from tragedy.
“This is the United States of America, you could be anything you want to be, be who you are,” she said. “This will bring us together, a lot closer than we’ve ever been.”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso called the mass shooting an act of discrimination and hatred that targeted Rios’ identity.
“Enrique didn’t die because of something he’s done, he died because of who he was, something he had no choice in being,” Reynoso said. “This senseless act was an act against the LGBTQ community.”
He urged the mostly Latino community at the vigil to stand together and to defend their brothers and sisters, both gay and straight.
“We’re not going to stand for that discrimination and that hatred,” Reynoso said. “We’re going to move forward and figure out a way to continue to protect people and get guns out of the hands of those that don’t deserve them.”
Most of the speakers, including elected officials and community leaders, called for an end to gun violence in the community. District leader Tommy Torres, who is also the vice principal of Progress High School on the Grand Street Campus, said four of his school’s students were affected by gun-related violence.
Rios attended Progress High School, and though Torres said he didn’t know Rios well, many teachers and classmates spoke fondly of the high-achieving student, who was in the process of becoming a registered nurse.
“Not only do we have to educate our kids, but we have to teach them about love, how to care for each other, how to deal with adversity and how to deal with arguments,” Torres said.
At the end of the ceremony, Davila, who had given out purple balloons to community members at the vigil, asked everyone to release the balloons all at once to “show our solidarity.”
Merced said she was grateful for those who attended and have supported her and her family. She encouraged those at the vigil to live life to the fullest and to repair any broken relationships with friends or family.
“We never know when our number is called, we never know if tomorrow comes or not,” she said. “Take this time while you still have it and unite with them, forgive them. Return to your friendships, to your family members.”
She said if there was anything left unsaid between her and her son, it was too late now. She can no longer say it to him, at least not physically, but as a person of faith, she said she can still say it in spirit.
“I believe I’m going to see him one day,” Merced said. “It really hurts, but my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ.”